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Niyazi Kızılyürek, in his column in the Yeni Düzen newspaper on 8 December 2008, addresses an issue that lies at the very heart of the current negotiations to settle the long-standing Cyprus problem. Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton.

Neither One People, nor Two Peoples

Niyazi Kızılyürek

The debate as to whether political union can be achieved in the divided country of Cyprus and, if so, the basis on which this may be achieved is as old as the Cyprus problem. This debate has from time to time, as is the case now, revolved around the categories of “people/peoples”. As we know, the Greek Cypriot side is promoting the principles of “one state, one country, one people” in its quest for political union (reunification). AKEL in particular has turned the notion of “one people” into a slogan. Conversely, in the Turkish Cypriot community there is widespread talk of the reality of “two states, two countries, two peoples”.

The debate as to whether Cyprus is inhabited by one people or two peoples is political rather than academic, and is directly related to the kind of political structure that is desired on the island. In such debate, the meaning ascribed to the notion of “a people” is, as much as it is political/ideological, “situational” and is created with a view to justifying pre-conceived policies. The best evidence for this is provided by the way different definitions have been created at different stages of history. For example, the Turkish Cypriot side, in order to legitimise its desire for Partition in the second half of the fifties, claimed that the island was inhabited by two peoples and that there thus existed two separate rights of self-determination. This position was consolidated over time, finally resulting in the thesis of “two separate states based on the existence of two peoples”. In fact, until the beginning of the fifties the Turkish Cypriot community had perceived of itself precisely as a “community”, and this was how it referred to itself. Indeed, as is evidenced by the name of one of the first associations to achieve a wide mass base, KATAK (Institution of the Turkish Minority of the Island), reference was made to a “Turkish minority” living in Cyprus. Later, while particularly between the years of 1960-1974 there was no mention of the notion of a “separate people”, following 1974 the formula of “two peoples” and “two states” was gradually brought onto the agenda, and on the basis of these theses calls were made for the permanent partition of the island.

The debate in the Greek Cypriot community was conducted with respect to similar political concerns. For example, until 1960 there was talk of a “Cypriot people” and a “Turkish minority” which was part of it. The desire to achieve Enosis lay behind arguments that, “Cyprus is inhabited by a single people” and that this people “wishes to exercise its right of self-determination”.

However, in the Cyprus state created (externally) as a result of a pact concluded between Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom there was no mention either of a single sovereign people nor of two separate peoples. Furthermore, there was either an absence of any trend for the communities to give their backing to the Cyprus state or to develop an ideological/political attachment to the state, or such trends as existed were extremely weak.

The Cyprus Constitution speaks only of two communities and religious groups, not of the Cypriot people!

The political discourse that emerged in the Greek Cypriot community in this period was once again, as it had been prior to 1960, based on the notion of a “single people”, but this time it was argued that the people had been deprived of their right of self-determination. The right of self-determination was brought back onto the agenda, despite the founding of the Cyprus state, with a view to eliminating the Zurich regime and achieving Enosis or obtaining a state in which sovereignty would be exercised by the political majority (the Greek Cypriots). Clearly in this period the thesis of a “single people” was used to turn the Turkish Cypriot community into a political minority. Indeed, the Akritas plan drawn up by the Greek Cypriot leadership was based on just such an understanding. What is notable about the plan, as much as the stress placed on the notion of a “single people”, is the approach that, in the event of potential clashes, sought to portray these clashes as “the internal affair of the Cypriot people”. Polykarpos Georgadjis, who under the assumed name of “Akritas” after the name of the plan itself commanded the secret organisation established for the purpose of realising the plan, stressed particularly in the course of training activities he conducted with organisation members that Cyprus was inhabited by a single and united people, that no racial discrimination of any kind was practiced, and that, once the Cypriot people had attained self-determination, the Turkish Cypriots had nothing to fear because their rights would be secured under the constitution.

AKEL in those years also spoke of a single people but, in contradistinction to today, did so without reference to the notion of two separate communities. For example, in a letter it sent on 17 September 1965 to the world communist parties it argued that, “the ‘thesis’ of two separate communities is used by imperialism” and stated that, “the Cypriot people as a whole, Greek and Turkish Cypriots, have the right to determine the future of their country without external interference.” AKEL went on in the letter, having pointed out that, “as in the case of the Turks, the human and democratic rights of other minorities living in Cyprus will be preserved”, to openly argue that the numerical majority required to be the political majority, thus returning to its pre-Zurich position.

Following 1974, which we may refer to as the post-Enosis-period, the notion of a single people continued to be vigorously promoted, but in this period the meaning ascribed to this notion once again underwent change. The notion of a single people began to be vigorously promoted, no longer with the aim of achieving Enosis or denying the political equality of the Turkish Cypriot community, but in order to prevent Partition and/or two state settlement formulas. With the notable inclusion of AKEL, “a solution based on a single people” became the universally accepted wisdom of both left and right. However, this thesis is consistent neither with the history of Cyprus, the politicojudicial regime founded in 1960, nor the parameters and principles adopted in the current attempts to find a settlement. The bi-communal nature of Cyprus is a historical, political and juridical fact, but, contrary to what the nationalists believe, this bi-communality is a phenomenon that has nothing to do with differences of language, religion or ethnicity. Bi-communality in Cyprus emerged as a consequence, in the course of moving from a traditional society into a modern society and thus into the era of nationalism, of the separate politicisation of the religious communities, their acquisition of different and conflicting national consciousnesses and, most significantly, the development of a shared political goal and a feeling of “us”. In other words, bi-communality is a political and not an ethnic phenomenon. Similarly, the notion of a “single people” is a phenomenon defined in terms of political criteria and not ethnic/folkloric criteria. There can be no grounds for claiming that communities of people which share no public space, have no common legislative capacity and do not feel themselves to be attached to the same political union constitute a “single people”. Perhaps if the bi-communal Republic of Cyprus had endured for a long time we would in all correctness be able to speak of the “Cypriot people”.

However, the absence of a single people does not imply the existence of two separate peoples. Just as it is a fact that in the course of the history of Cyprus the religious communities turned into separate and different national communities, it is also a fact that the right of self-determination, and the thus the sovereignty, of these two groups is limited. The clearest evidence of this was the order created in 1960 under the Zurich and London Agreements. The Cyprus Constitution, framed based on the reality that the country of Cyprus was populated by two separate communities, provided for the exercising of sovereignty in accordance with the principle of separate wills and political equality. Moreover, through the imposition of “immutable” Basic Articles, the communities’ sovereignty was limited. Furthermore, in all the settlement proposals that have been submitted up until now, including the Annan Plan, to the extent that the Greek Cypriot community’s numerical majority has been prevented from becoming a political majority, the Turkish Cypriot community’s right to separate has been denied. Under these circumstances, the notion was created of an order based on mutual dependence in which, without the will of one, the other lacked the capacity to pass resolutions and legislate and in which sovereignty was shared. This heritage does not permit the situation to be altered simply by referring to yourselves as “two peoples” or “two countries”.

In short, it is incorrect to speak of “two separate peoples” or “a single people” in Cyprus. For it is neither sufficient to invoke ethnic or similar differences to justify the existence of a separate people, nor necessarily the fact of shared geographical space to justify the existence of a single people. In the law of nations, the notion of a people is above all political. A people is a community that dwells within the same state, is connected by ties of citizenship to that state, has a legislative capacity and consists of participating citizens who share a common public space. In Cyprus there currently does not exist such a political order. Thus it appears to be more meaningful to strive for the creation of a federal Cyprus state, to unite the ethnic communities under the umbrella of the same state, to grant them combined legislative capacity and to enable them to share a common public space than to prolong the “single or double” squabble. Such a development may lead to the future emergence of a Cypriot people, as was the case in Switzerland, America, Belgium, India and other countries.

By searching in Cyprus’ past, we will find neither a “Cypriot people” nor “two peoples”. We thus need to turn our faces towards the future.

Archive of Turkish press translations by Tim Drayton